This month I had the opportunity to visit a land holding a strong tradition of food and wine while also possessing a robust history that shaped the world we live in today.
A 10-day trip to Portugal offered me the gift of seeing the way people live, eat, and interact who reside halfway around the world. I’m sure many travelers can relate to the experiences a trip to a distant land can impress upon the mind. In my case, returning from the densely populated city of Lisbon offered me the gift of the deafening silence back in the sanctuary of my hometown of Napa.
As I strolled throughout the alleyways of Lisbon on my first early morning, cubes of tightly packed basalt stones made up the sidewalks. This distinctive walkway was the accepted way of every sidewalk in the country. Its archaic image made walking a little interesting, as the sidewalks were uneven.
These walkways offered an intriguing uphill track to a café where I eagerly awaited breakfast. Ham and cheese croissants, bread, and the nationally recognized Portuguese pastry pastéis de nata were on full display.
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We learned that some of the nuns and monks created these egg custard-filled tarts and sold them at bake sales to raise money for their churches. These tantalizingly delicious foods were about 75% of my diet as I enjoyed this traditional way of eating a pastry with a cup of espresso each morning.
The cities of Porto, Lisbon, Sintra, and the Faro district of the azure-tinted beach waters of the Algarve region taught me an unforgettable lesson on how vast and old the world is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Castles, massive walls to fend off invaders, churches and structures still standing from the 15th century gave me a sense of appreciation of the history that brought the human race to be as sophisticated as it is today.
Along the way, I endured quite a few challenges. A diet consisting of ham, cheese and cream paired with a climate of cigarette smoke infiltrating the air being absorbed directly into my respiratory system was not the usual environment I was accustomed to in my healthy lifestyle back in Napa.
After two days of absorbing a copious amount of these foods, my digestive tract was in immediate stress. My nose, throat, and sinuses became irritated from the exposure to cigarette smoke while walking through narrow alleys and inhaling exhaust fumes from the cars that rampaged through the narrow streets. Automobiles zipped an inch past me as the hasty taxi drivers of Lisbon navigated through the tiny one-way streets.
This new environment left me with a few physical adaptations needed to fully enjoy this trip without an upset stomach or a black lung.
I needed to find a way to counteract my gluttonous Shangri-La of world-renowned Portuguese cuisine so my digestive system didn’t feel like I got hit by the 130 mph train that took us from Porto to the Algarve.
Fortunately, the restaurants we visited throughout lunch and dinner offered a wide array of roasted veggies and salads, and many of the cafés and restaurants along my journey offered tapas-style menu items. These small plates had various vegetable plates to choose from.
Consuming veggies during lunch and dinner was critically important because of the fiber and high concentration of water they contained in the leafy greens, raw fruits and grilled squash-like items.
Therefore, as I created my itinerary of food consumption, I made sure to locate restaurants that offered vegetables in various preparations. This way, I could enjoy the fantastic traditional Portuguese dishes with butter, cream, cheese, and bread as their primary ingredients while consuming fresh veggies at each meal.
Traveling for work or pleasure can be rough on the body. We aren’t exposed to the same healthy habits we create for ourselves on the home front. However, it’s essential to identify what factors might pose an obstacle to our physical well-being. Some factors that might impede our health while traveling include suboptimal food decisions and lack of hydration.
The adverse effects of too much delicious, fatty, and dehydrated food can be mitigated by choosing healthier options, such as salads or grilled and roasted veggies. Embracing this tactic not only made my stomach remain in equilibrium, but I also learned some invaluable tricks on the different vegetable combinations and how they were prepared in each dish. I couldn’t wait to go home and visit the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday and showcase my newly acquired food knowledge with some fresh fruits and vegetables I learned about on my trip to Portugal.
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